Job Interviews: Where Do You See Yourself Five Years from Now?

A friend of mine has an interesting take on what he calls “annoying interview questions” – and that includes questions about where you see yourself five years from now. (Others are about your greatest strength or weakness.)

While there’s certainly no one “right” answer for a question like that, some approaches work better than others. So without further ado, here’s what my pal L. Bosco has to say about it:

THOSE ANNOYING INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

by L. Bosco

Interviews are a pain in the neck!

Ideally you want to see if there’s a good fit between you and the employer. But most interviews are full of those “pat questions” that have been written up endlessly in books and even on blogs where so-called experts give job applicants handy-dandy “pat answers” to those over-used “pat questions.” So basically both sides could just as well e-mail in their parts and save everyone a lot of time. It’s a rare interviewer who knows how to create a really informative interview.

So job seekers must still sit through these often painful interviews (some where the interviewer is barely listening) and be prepared to answer these same silly questions: What is your greatest weakness? What are your strengths? How would you handle an angry customer?

And, my personal not-favorite: “Where do you want to be in 5 years?”

I always want to answer that last one with something like “living in Bora Bora on my lotto winnings” or “King of Siam” or at least “Sophia’s latest lover.” (The name mentioned to be filled in by you based on your own gender, age, preferences, and imagination.)

(Note from Work Coach: Uh…I’m not recommending you do that!)

It is a question where virtually any answer can get you into trouble, since you don’t know your interviewer. If you aim too high, you might come off as too ambitious and either won’t be around long enough to cover the cost of training or you’ll threaten their own position. If you aim too low, you lack initiative and won’t contribute enough to cover the cost of your salary.

So how the heck does one reply? I puzzled over this for days. And then weeks. And then more weeks. Finally, I could find no good “pat” answer that also felt safe. Therefore, I opted to tell the truth and the interviews be damned!

So from then on when I was asked where I wanted to be in my career five years from now, I told them:

“I don’t have a specific plan! I would like to advance. However, I am flexible. I will do my current job to the best of my ability and keep my eyes open for opportunities within the organization to advance even if it means changing roles. I am prepared to learn new things and contribute to the overall success of the organization in a number of ways. The only specific within that “plan of willingness” is that the opportunity be within my ability to learn, interesting enough for me to dig in and do a good job, and the compensation increase a reasonable amount in relation to the demands of the position.”

I was hired!!

I have since been interviewed for a number of promotions by a number of different people (most of whom have come and gone and never even met each other.) And when they asked me where I see myself in five years, I gave them all the same answer!! And I’ve earned eight promotions in thirty-one years.

The truth has one advantage over the best prepared scripts. No one is expecting it!

***

Note from Work Coach: For most of you who get a bit nervous at interviews, sticking to a quasi-pat answer still may be the best idea – or at least using a shorter hybrid version of L. Bosco’s answer: “In the next five years I’d like to see myself here advancing to the next level or at least learning new things and taking on new responsibilities if at all possible.” Or if it’s a job where learning and advancement are not the goal, then a simple ” I’m happiest when I feel that I’m an essential part of the company I work for – hopefully this one. In the next five years (and hopefully more) I plan to take advantage of whatever opportunities are available – but mostly, I want to do the best I can and know that I’m making a difference.”

Of course, if you are interviewing in a high-powered company that expects you to be hungry for advancement…well, if that’s who you are you sure don’t need help with a question like this! (-;

But no matter what your answer, when I interview people I strongly prefer candidates who are real and natural. Whatever you do, try to be yourself – even if yourself is a little nervous. (-; Look the interviewer(s) in the eyes, take a moment to connect, and then with as much truth and sincerity as possible make the words yours.

Since I know L. Bosco, my guess is that he won over his interviewers with his honest down-to-earth manner as much as with his words.

So where do you see yourself in five years? Hopefully not having to answer that annoying “where do you see yourself five years from now” question ever again. But please DON’T use that as your answer. ;-)

Good luck!
Ronnie Ann

More job interview articles I hope will help:

 

About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.

Comments

  1. I once answered that question with the following answer: “well, I see myself laying down on a surgery table while I get my boobs fixed, my butt lifted, my waistline smaller, and my nose more proportionate.” I did get the job, but got fired eventually because they though I was too vain.

  2. Probably the best answers I’ve heard yet! I feel that this answer is truly from the heart, because I too am not the kind that has those 5-10 years goals planned, and I’ve desperately tried to think of ways to still show my motivation while not having those “definite plans”. Really appreciated the article!

  3. I actually like the Bora Bora lottery winnings answer, as long as you say it with a chuckle. It breaks the ice of a painful question and shows you have a sense of humor and personality. I think it’s okay to lead with that answer as long as you circle back to a real one that is genuine.

  4. Very nice answer. I really appreciate the truth and I would say the same to anyone from now on.

  5. I had an interview this week, I came here because I knew they would ask me this question and I needed help coming up with a good, but general answer. I said the same thing but I put it in my own words. Do you know I got the job?! I couldnt believe it. It really did work.

    • Hi Wendi,

      Not sure exactly what take provided in this post — or comment stream worked for you — but I’m delighted to know that the strategy worked. And more importantly, that you got the job!

      All the Best,
      Chandlee

  6. I really appreciated your answer.I was asked the same question on a an interview but i was unable to answer. I was therefore disqualified but know i am feel great as i have the answer.

    • Hi Samson,

      Glad you find the information on this site to be helpful, and good luck in your job search. I would not assume that not being able to answer one question was the reason you were disqualified from the previous job you applied for — often there are factors beyong your control — and companies decide not to hire anyone (or a current employee) after the interview process.

      I wish you luck going forward, and thanks again for stopping by work coach cafe.

      All the Best,
      Chandlee

  7. First may i say thanks as i have been looking for the same answer on the same question. know my
    problem has been solved.I know i will make next time should i be invited in an interview.

    • Thanks, Sheila. Make sure you practice your response with a friend before your next interview! Always helps to talk it through. Good luck in your search!

      All the Best,
      Chandlee

  8. I use to interview people often. I also use to ask that very annoying question. Now, here is my excuse and the reason behind I am asking it: Perhaps there isn’t a right answer, but there sure is a wrong answer.

    I am not that concerned if you aim high or low. I am much more concerned if you are interested of staying in the field that you are applying to. If I am looking for “Marine” I don’t want someone to answer “Airforce commander”. “Pilot” is equally bad.

    And about aiming too high… With all respect: If you are applying for a job and you are not hired because you are too ambitious… Do you really want that job?! Really?

    Anyway. Just my own personal thoughts. Thanks for great article.

  9. Hello there!
    Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok. I’m definitely enjoying your blog
    and look forward to new updates.

  10. I will try this answer tomorrow at my interview. I’ll let you know how it ended up… ;) Hopefully good!

  11. Wow, thanks. That was really helpful. I flubbed the last two interviews because I couldn’t answer honestly with questions like that. I honestly DON’T have any particular plans. This gives me a good, structured, honest answer that I can give.

  12. I was once asked this question, and like yourself, I had got bored of giving the usual spin, so simply answered “happy”. The interviewer said it was the best answer he had ever had. This said, I didn`t get the job, but not due to that answer, purely because his friend who works in the field of reading people, was also sat making notes all through the interview, and felt I was over-talented for the job. Never really got that one, as to me, if I didn`t want that job, I wouldn`t have taken the time to go for a interview, needless to say though, in my letter from them, telling me I didn`t get the job, he did state, he still smiles at that answer.

    • chandlee says:

      Mark,

      Thanks for sharing the story with us. Good luck to you and let us know how we can be of help to you. We want you to be happy, too.

      Best,
      Chandlee

  13. pandorazzbox says:

    Thanks a lot for the article! Now I found the pleasant way to answer such kind of question. The moment when I was interviewed, it was so nerve-wracking for me. Well, as simply as it is, I told the HR interviewer my real answer. I don’t know if that was correct or wrong. Thus, I believe in myself that I’m just being truthful and I know by myself that I give off my best when I’m in the workforce already. :)

  14. This is the best answer I’ve seen yet to this question. I have contemplated a lot of what I want to do in five years.

    I understand they are looking for somebody who is long term with the company and that is why the question is usually asked.

    I’ve answered this question in a variety of ways, but I think I want to go for something simple.

    I’m trying to find something that is simply me.

  15. I got hit with this one and it caught me by surprise, I said retired! You should know I’m not lazy but I am 61 years old. In 5 years I’ll be 66. Found out from the head hunter that wasn’t such a good thing to say and a deal breaker. Duh!

    Thanks for your advice. I like the answer.

  16. Stephen S says:

    Thank you for writing this article. I didn’t necessarily come for help with interviews, but to answer the question “How do you see yourself in the work world in the next 5 years?” I’ve been asked to answer that question from a professor whose agreed to write me a reference letter. Although I do believe having goals for yourself in your career is a necessity, I also believe being honest with these questions is important. If this article has reminded me of anything, it’s that we don’t need to answer questions with robotic responses that we THINK they want to hear.

  17. Hi Susan, I wondering if you can help me with some advice on what to tell employers regarding wire left my previous position. I was a director role however it didn’t work out just do two issues with the lack of vision at the executive level and plan projects which were over projected. I decided to leave. What should I tell them because sometimes the new employer assumes that I was fired. So I’m being asked why and was I laid-off or did a quit. What do you think I should say and how should I approach this
    Thank you

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    My blog site is in the very same niche as yours and my visitors would really
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